Employers, students not on same page

Too much emphasis on degree, experience and lack of feedback when recruiting among gripes voiced by students on website
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 12/20/2011

In the winter of 2005, Lauren Friese was a soon-to-be graduate from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., with “zero job prospects” and an uncertainty on how to successfully transition from school to work.

While she watched her fellow graduates struggle to find work — meaningful or otherwise — she decided to go to the London School of Economics in England. There she found the school-to-work transition was not nearly as complicated. Hoping to implement some of the efficiencies she witnessed overseas, she moved back to Canada in 2007 and launched TalentEgg.ca, an online career resource for Canadian students and recent graduates.

Friese recently launched a new online initiative, Student Voice, to give students and recent graduates a platform to share their job search stories — the good and the bad, she said.

“For too long, the conversation about how to recruit students has been had between employers themselves, with experts and with career centres, and the obvious people missing from that conversation are students,” said Friese, who is based in Toronto. “But it’s also parents, industry experts, so the idea was to provide a forum to let everybody communicate.”

One of the main issues that has come up is the disconnect between employers and students surrounding campus recruitment. While Friese estimates 80 per cent of employers conduct the majority of their campus recruitment in September for fourth-year students, only 19 per cent of students search for a job during this time, according to a TalentEgg.ca poll in June 2011.

“Great talent gets left behind all the time because of this,” said Friese.

“To me, the best talent is too busy in September starting their clubs, running the school, getting acquainted with their jobs, jumping into their classes to even know or be aware that campus recruitment is happening at that time.”

Employers should, ideally, let top students apply whenever they want, she said. But if that’s not feasible and they can only open applications from Sept. 1 to 30, they should spend the rest of the year telling students when they will be hiring.

Management consulting and outsourcing company Accenture stays connected with students throughout the year via social media, including Facebook, Twitter, a careers blog on the company website and YouTube videos, said Lisa Kramer, Accenture’s campus recruiting lead based in Toronto.

“Social media allows us to connect with students 24-7. At any time, we can connect with them and deliver the message in terms of when we’re going to be on campus,” said Kramer. “A lot of it really is just communication… so students understand when things are happening and are not missing out on these opportunities.”

Another issue brought forward by Student Voice is employers are placing too much emphasis on a candidate’s degree, said Friese. Many students who have studied history or business at a “second-tier” school can’t even get an interview, she said.

“My advice to employers would be to recognize there is top talent right across the country,” said Friese. “That decision a student made at the age of 17 to choose a specific university or college program is not indicative of how great they’re going to be in your organization.”

Instead of focusing on the degree, employers should look at the candidate’s personality, drive and leadership potential, said Karen Gordon, a partner at organizational development consulting firm Rosson and Gordon in Halifax.

They should “dig deep” and talk to students and recent graduates about past experiences, such as working in teams and dealing with non-performers, to determine if they are the type of people they want at their organization, she said.

Another concern students have is they cannot get a job without experience, but they can’t get experience without a job, said Friese.

“We expect students to have very little experience coming in so we look at much more than that,” said Kramer. “(Employers) should consider the extracurricular activities, volunteer experience or classroom work as experience… because it’s giving them those transferrable skills.”

Students and recent graduates are also frustrated because they feel they can’t get a job unless they know the right people, said Friese. While students are strongly encouraged to build their network, it’s important employers recognize this frustration, she said.

“Creating a firm that only hires through networking, through people they know — the boss’ daughter type thing — I don’t think that’s good business for the long run and it’s not good planning,” said Friese.

Employers should develop an interview process that looks beyond the network, she said.

A lack of feedback from employers after a job application is submitted also frustrates young workers, she said. It is very difficult when a candidate is waiting to hear back from her dream job without knowing if the employer looked at the application, if the interview process has even started or if the position has been filled, said Friese.

“Sometimes there are delays and (employers) don’t really realize the student is sitting at the other end of that phone desperately waiting for that call,” said Gordon.

Employers should work to consider students’ frustrations because young workers bring a fresh perspective into an organization and are necessary for the future of the business, said Friese.

“There’s a great opportunity now with a lot of people approaching retirement for some amazing mentorship programs and transfer of skills and knowledge that in five to 10 years will not exist,” she said. “So now is the time to begin.”

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